The root of 3

The Stately Lily of the Nile or Arum lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica, luxuriates in the wild in the swamps and lake margins of southern and eastern Africa. But it is far more adaptable and hardy than is often imagined, making an excellent contrast to ferns in a moist shady border.

A thoroughly regal plant, it carries itself with great dignity and bearing and, though best known for its flowers, it makes a foliage plant as dramatic as the Hostas (and less prone to slug damage). It has large unbroken, arrow-shaped, wavy-edged leaves which reach well over a foot long and have a fine, curling point. They are glossy, dark-green and held on clumps of strong, fleshy stems 3ft high. The flowers that rise above this foilage in summer are elegant, striking and strange. A central, finger-like, creamy- yellow spike surrounded by a smooth, creamy-white cloak that fades imperceptibly to green where it meets the flower stem.

The Arum's favoured home is the boggy water's edge. But how many of us have a lake in our gardens? Fortunately, they are also happy in moist and well-fed borders, in pots or submerged in the pond. They like sun or light shade. In the mildest gardens, their handsome foliage remains evergreen, otherwise they disappear below ground in winter. Cover the crowns well with a thick mulch to keep out frost.

The Ostrich feather or Shuttlecock fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, is completely hardy. It likes moisture, light shade and rich soil and has an elegance to match that of the Arum lily. The difference in foliage could not be greater, its finely divided, light-green fronds a marked contrast to the solid, dark green Arum leaves. True to its name, this fern arranges its fronds in the form of a shuttlecock. In the centre of the circle it produces a yearly crop of brown, felty, seed-bearing fronds slightly shorter than the surrounding foliage. In summer, they are not very obvious but as the encircling fronds die away at the year end, they are left to stand alone through the winter.

Finally, at ground level, plant the very ordinary Dead nettle, Lamium maculatum f. album, to interweave with its companions. Its leaves have silver-white variegations and it bears small, lipped, pure white flowers. Its carpet-forming vigour is its virtue and its vice, so every now and then you may have to keep its spread in check.

John the Gardener

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